Human error responsible for traffic ‘crashes’

For those of you that are regular readers of these weekly articles on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, you know that my position, like many others in traffic safety, is not to use the word “accident” when referring to traffic crashes. Indeed, they are crashes or collisions, not accidents. The word accident implies that crashes are nobody’s fault — they just happen.

Well, I certainly agree they do happen. Where I draw the fine line is that they happen because of human error — driver error to be specific. Human error is defined as a human action (or lack of action) with unintended consequences. How true is that! There may be a few drivers on the road that intend to cause a crash, but I have yet to encounter one. No driver leaves home intending to cause a crash, yet they happen with increasing frequency every day. Why? In most cases it’s because of driver error. Why trivialize the single most common cause of traffic incidents, driver error, by referring to them as accidents, like it couldn’t have been prevented.

According to an article in the New York Times several years ago, the state of Nevada enacted a law on Jan. 1, 2016, to change the word “accident” to “crash” in dozens of instances where the word is mentioned in state laws, like those covering police and insurance reports. In New York State, drivers involved in traffic crashes involving a fatality or personal injury, or involving $1,000 damage to any one person’s property, must report it to the DMV on form MV-104, “Report of Motor Vehicle Accident.” Most, if not all forms used by enforcement agencies in New York continue to use the work “accident” rather than “crash.”

Driving or riding in a car is the most dangerous activity for most people. Traffic safety advocates say that the persistence of crashes can be explained, at least partially, by widespread apathy toward the issue.

We drive for years without an incident then, unexpectedly, we are involved in a crash — unintended for sure, but it happens. If we are good drivers, we reflect back on what led up to the crash — it may have been something we did or didn’t do that caused it. If it is our fault, we need to learn from our error. If it was the fault of the other driver, we need to review the seconds prior to the collision to see if we missed an opportunity to have avoided it, even if it was the other driver’s fault.

In conclusion, driving requires 100 percent of our concentration — no time for multi-tasking, talking on the phone, texting, or even fiddling with the vehicle’s controls.

A friend once told me, after every trip he makes, whether it is only a few miles or hundreds of miles, he reflects back on the trip and self-assesses his behavior as a driver. Maybe we all should do that.


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